The news these past few weeks has been dominated with stories about vaccines: the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, the measles outbreak in Disneyland, the anti-vaxers holding strong to their beliefs that vaccines are harmful. Well, a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics examined records from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), and found that many of the children with alleged vaccine injury, most commonly seizures and/or encephalopathy (a disorder or disease of the brain), had pre-existing conditions. This means that many of the claims linking vaccines to the development of seizures were false.
Although vaccines have substantially reduced the toll of many deadly communicable diseases, some remain fearful of vaccines because of the alleged connection between vaccines and neurologic injury. However, a committee of the Child Neurology Society concluded that the whole cell pertussis vaccine is not linked to brain injury and epidemiologic studies have not supported a causal relationship. Furthermore, studies have concluded that neurologic injury is highly unlikely to follow diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus (DPT) immunizations. Largest estimates suggest a frequency of <3 [such cases] per million vaccinations.
Researchers, led by Dr. Tarannum M. Lateef of the Department of Neurology at Children s National Medical Center and George Washington University School of Medicine, looked at the medical records of 165 children diagnosed with epilepsy and/or encephalopathy after being vaccinated, and who had claims submitted to the VICP between 1995 and 2005. Of those claims, 80 percent pertained to the DTaP or the whole-cell diphtheria, pertussis vaccine. However, of those claims, 13 percent had pre-existing seizures and 10 percent had abnormalities detected in a neurologic examination prior to being vaccinated. Although 69 percent of these children were diagnosed with seizure disorder, 17 percent had myoclonic epilepsy (a genetic abnormality not linked to vaccination) and 16 percent had conditions such as tuberous sclerosis and cerebral dysgenesis (brain malformation), also not linked to vaccinations.
Study authors conclude that Vaccines are perhaps one of the most significant public health accomplishments of this century and must not be dismissed from our armentarium [sic] against potentially lethal infectious diseases without sound scientific justification. They add, Future studies that include genotyping may allow more specific therapy and prognostication, and enhance public confidence in vaccination.
Parents should not be dissuaded from getting their kids vaccinated because of the unsupported fear that vaccines cause neurologic damage. The actual rate of seizures is in fact minuscule. The more serious concern should be the re-emergence of these once eradicated diseases, such as measles, which can actually result in long-term harm or death.